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How to avoid drowsy driving this holiday season

Drowsy driving is a problem here in Illinois and across America’s roads all year. One in three drivers surveyed by AAA admitted to driving “when they were so tired they had a hard time keeping their eyes open.” According to AAA, about 20 percent of fatal crashes involve a drowsy driver.

This time of year, when people are driving long distances to family gatherings and popular holiday destinations, the chances of sharing the road with a driver who’s not sufficiently awake to drive safely are especially high.

If you’re going to be heading out on any holiday trip — whether downstate to visit relatives, up to the family cabin in Wisconsin or halfway across the country, AAA has some important tips:

  • The night before your trip, get a minimum of six hours of sleep — preferably seven or more.
  • Drive only during your normal waking hours. One of the most dangerous things you can do is work all day and drive all night to your destination.
  • Drink coffee or something caffeinated about 30 minutes before you start out.
  • Don’t eat a heavy meal or take medications that could make you sleepy before or during your trip.
  • Stop for a break about every 100 miles or two hours if you’re the only one driving. If you get tired before that, stop in a safe area and nap.
  • If possible, split the driving responsibility with another person. At least have a passenger whose job is to stay awake and alert.

Be aware of the most common drowsy driving symptoms in yourself, if you’re driving, and others, if you’re the passenger. You may also observe them in a driver of another vehicle, if they result in dangerous behavior, like drifting into another lane.

Symptoms include having difficulty keeping your eyes open and your head up, daydreaming, losing focus and forgetting having driven the past few miles and missing an exit or turn. Some drivers become irritable when they’re drowsy. However, AAA cautions that “more than half of drivers involved in fatigue-related crashes experienced no symptoms before falling asleep behind the wheel,”

If you suffer injuries in a crash caused by another driver, part of the investigation should include whether the driver was impaired by alcohol, drugs or drowsiness. Anything that compromised the at-fault driver’s ability to drive safely can be used as evidence to help you obtain the compensation you need and deserve.